Feast of Immaculate Conception points to Advent Print
Seeing with Jesus' Eyes
Thursday, Dec. 05, 2013 -- 12:00 AM

Seeing with Jesus' Eyes, a column by Fr. Donald Lange

Franz Werfel wrote a popular book called The Song of Bernadette. The reason he wrote this book goes back to World War II.

Shrine at Lourdes, France

As a controversial Jew in occupied France, he was on the Nazi hit list. He and Alma, his wife, fled from the Nazis who pursued them.

They sought shelter in Lourdes where the famous shrine of Mary is located. One night he went alone to the shrine.

In the darkness, he prayed, “God, I’m not a believer. I must be honest and say so. I am a Jew. But in my extreme need, on the chance that I could be wrong, I ask you to help me and my wife. If you see us safely to the United States, I promise to write a story of Lourdes for all the world to read.”

After that prayer, he experienced peace of mind that he never before experienced. His prayer was answered.

He and his wife found their way into Spain. A few days later, they were safely on a ship sailing to the United States. He kept his promise and wrote the book The Song of Bernadette.

When Mary appeared to Bernadette at Lourdes, Bernadette did not know the identity of this beautiful lady.

Mary revealed herself to Bernadette when she told her, “I am the Immaculate Conception.” Mary’s appearances to Bernadette reinforced the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, which Pope Pius IX had proclaimed three and a half years earlier. We celebrate the feast of the Immaculate Conception on December 8.

Definition of the doctrine

On December 8, 1854, Pope Pius IX solemnly declared that Mary was conceived free from original sin and that this was now a dogma of faith to be believed by all the faithful.

In no. 491 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Pius IX proclaimed: “The most Blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of Almighty God and by virtue of Jesus Christ, Savior of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin.”

From all women, God chose Mary who was sinless to be the mother of the sinless one. God sent the angel Gabriel to ask Mary if she would freely consent to be Jesus’ mother.

In Luke 1:34-35 Mary asked the angel, “How can this be since I have no relations with a man?” The angel explained, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the Power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore, the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.”

After the angel’s explanation, Mary answered, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”

It was the dream of Jewish girls to be the Messiah’s mother. God freely chose sinless Mary to be Jesus’ mother because she was fully open to God’s will and full of God’s grace and of the Immaculate Conception.

Patroness of the USA

We pray to Mary, immaculately conceived, the patroness of the United States, to watch over our country and protect it.

The lyrics of “America the Beautiful” praise America’s cornucopia of blessings. But its words “May God mend thine every flaw” invite us to continuous conversion to being more Christ-like.

Mary is the patroness of Advent. She waited and longed to give birth to Jesus and offer him to the world.

In 1846, at the Sixth Provincial Council of Baltimore, the bishops of the United States adopted a decree by which they chose the Virgin Mary conceived without sin as patroness of the United States under the title of the Immaculate Conception.

Fr. Kevin O’Shea stated that Mary was so in love with God that she conceived Christ in her heart before her womb.

Preparation during Advent

Advent invites us to grow in our unique vocation as Jesus’ disciples. We spiritually conceive and receive Christ through Baptism and share him with others in ways no one else can where we live, work, or recreate.

During Advent we join Mary in waiting patiently for the birth of Jesus at Christmas. We can prepare for Christmas and for Christ’s second coming by participating in Mass and Advent devotions, receiving the sacrament of Reconciliation, giving food to the poor, spiritual reading, and perhaps reading or re-reading The Song of Bernadette.

The Holy Spirit will show us other ways if we ask for his guidance. On this patronal feast of our country we can also join other Americans in appreciating God as the source of our many blessings as the Blessed Mother did.

Fr. Don Lange is a pastor emeritus in the Diocese of Madison.